Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Giving Back by Alison Henderson

I know we're supposed to be talking about hot and cold this month - and I will, on the fifteenth. Today I want to share a remarkable experience I had a couple of days ago.

As many of you know, my husband and I moved from Minnesota to California last year. The year has passed in a whirlwind of activity, including buying and completely renovating a new home and releasing my first indie publication. In the midst of all that, I've relied on my online writer friends for support. I haven't had the time/energy/gumption to seek out other local writers. There's a small RWA chapter in the county, but I haven't made it to a meeting yet. A bit closer to home there's also a chapter of the California Writer's Association - haven't checked them out either.

I'm an introverted sort who's happier away from the madding crowds, but I do miss the regular company of other writers. So when I saw a small article in the Monterey Herald last month looking for writing coaches for a Young Authors Workshop at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, it caught my eye. Here was an opportunity to possibly meet other writers as well as mentor a budding middle school writer. I signed up immediately.

The workshop was Monday, and I came home drained. The coordinators brought together 100 coaches and 100 middle school students. Trust me, there was nothing quiet about this gathering. After a short training session, I spent an hour and a half with a shy, nearly silent, seventh grade boy, working on his essay on The Red Pony for the competition. 

The students had been hand selected by their teachers from schools all over the county, and they represented four skill levels--from English-learner to advanced-proficient. I believe my student, Adrian, probably fell into the "emerging writer" category. He was a lovely boy, extremely polite, who clearly came from a home where English is not the first language. I tried to gently guide him in ways to improve his essay while respecting where he is on his personal writing journey. I hope he found it useful, but he was so reticent it was hard to tell.

I also met a fascinating man who claimed to be a retired CIA agent who's getting ready to self-publish a series of techno-thrillers this summer. He invited me to join his online national critique group, and I'm giving it some thought. When we were preparing to leave, he asked me how my day had gone. When I said I couldn't be sure, he made a an interesting comment about karma. I didn't understand at first, so he clarified by saying that helping these young writers was a way of giving back. I hadn't looked at it from that perspective, but he was right. More experienced writers have certainly helped my on my journey, and if I was able to help Adrian in some small way I am only paying it forward. Even though I may never know the value of my contribution, I plan to volunteer again next year. It's the least I can do. 



Margo Hoornstra said...

Great story, Alison. The good times come when we least expect them.

Diane Burton said...

Kudos to you for helping a young writer. That must have been frustrating with him not talking much. Yet, you never know the effect you had on him. Like you, I moved last year. I was lucky because my "local" RWA chapter covers most of the lower peninsula of Mich. The support of that terrific group can't be explained. (Margo knows.) It's hard to get out and meet new people. Good luck.

Liz Flaherty said...

This IS a great story, Alison. And even if he never talks to you about it, I'm sure of one thing: he'll never forget you, either.

Jannine Gallant said...

It can be a challenge tutoring young writers. I've done it before for kids struggling in their English classes. Getting through to kids that age is rewarding when you finally see the light bulb go off and know they "get" it. Good for you for putting yourself out there!

Alison Henderson said...

I hadn't spent that much time with a seventh grade boy since, well maybe never. You forget how shy they can be. I just hope he got something out of it.

Alicia Dean said...

Fantastic! Thank you for sharing. I'm sure he got a lot out of it and I bet he'll always remember you. What a marvelous opportunity to give back. I know exactly what you mean about being helped by other writers. I am sure we can all say that.

Leah St. James said...

What a great idea, Alison! I hope to have time some day to get involved with a local literacy program. You've inspired me to work harder to make that happen.